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November 3, 2022

Phoenix 101: Qualifying format, Goodyear tires, story lines and more


NASCAR Cup Series cars race past the start/finish line at Phoenix
Logan Riely
Getty Images

The Championship 4 is set, and the only thing left to do now is crown this year’s NASCAR Cup Series title winner.

Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain are prepared to battle in the desert in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Prepare for title weekend with everything you need to know below:

RELATED: Weekend schedule | Cup Series standings

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Unlike most weekends throughout the 2022 Cup schedule, teams will have a full 50-minute practice session Friday evening (8:05 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN). The session will be open to all entries, and teams will be allowed to work on their cars in advance of qualifying.

Qualifying to set the starting lineup will take place on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Championship 4 drivers and teams will be ordered by their previous race metrics and assigned to Group A or B by the usual odd/even metric procedures. Playoff teams will be the final cars to qualify in their respective groups.

This week, Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain will be the final qualifiers in Group A. Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Christopher Bell will qualify last in Group B. Every driver will post one timed lap during their time trial. The fastest five drivers from each group will advance to the final round of qualifying, where those 10 drivers will set one more circuit to fight for the Busch Light Pole Award. The driver who sets the quickest lap in the session will start first on Sunday.

MORE: Paint Scheme Preview | Qualifying order

PHOENIX STORY LINES

— For the first time since 2018, four different organizations are represented in the Championship 4. This is the fifth time it’s happened since the elimination format was introduced in 2014. Joey Logano represents Team Penske; Christopher Bell represents Joe Gibbs Racing; Chase Elliott represents Hendrick Motorsports; and Ross Chastain represents Trackhouse Racing.

— The average age of the 2022 Championship 4 is 29 years, 3 months, 19 days — the youngest ever.

— The top four drivers in average finish in the 2022 season are the Championship 4 drivers.

— Kyle Larson’s Homestead-Miami win locked the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team into the Championship 4 for the owners’ championship. Only twice in Cup have there been a separate owners champion and driver champion: In 1963, Joe Weatherly won the drivers’ title, and Wood Brothers won the owners’ championship; in 1954, Lee Petty won the drivers’ championship, and Herb Thomas won the owners’ championship.

— Logano (2018) and Elliott (2020) are each seeking their second career Cup title, while Bell and Chastain eye their first, respectively.

— 19 different drivers have won this year, tied for the most all time.

— Christopher Bell’s Martinsville victory was also Joe Gibbs Racing’s 200th win, making it the third organization with at least 200 wins.

— Three of the last six champions won the opening race in the Round of 8, including Joey Logano in 2018. Logano won this year’s Round of 8 opener at Las Vegas.

— Chastain advanced to the Championship 4 for the first time in his career, taking Trackhouse Racing there for the first time as well. This is Trackhouse Racing’s second season, and it locked both of its drivers into the playoffs (Chastain, Daniel Suárez).

Source: Racing Insights

GOODYEAR TIRES

Teams will have familiar tires to work with Sunday in the Arizona desert.

Goodyear returns to the 1-mile tri-oval with the same tire setup utilized in the Next Gen’s inaugural Phoenix race back in March. Since then, teams have also run these tires at Richmond, Worldwide Technology Raceway and New Hampshire. Two of this year’s Championship 4 contenders have already won with this Goodyear configuration — Joey Logano was victorious at WWT Raceway, and Christopher Bell won at New Hampshire.

“This is an important weekend for the sport as we crown our 2022 champions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “In the Cup Series, we’ve had an exciting season with the introduction of the Next Gen car. As has always happened, the learning curve with a new car is steep, and teams work hard at improving their performance as the season goes on.

“We got up to speed fairly quickly at Phoenix after an organizational test at the track in January and then a race in March. Coming back with this same tire setup at four more races at three different tracks throughout the spring and summer, Cup teams have been able to remove that variable as they developed their car setups. Everyone should know what to expect from this tire setup, and that helps the teams as they prepare for Championship Weekend.”

PHOENIX HISTORY

— Phoenix Raceway opened in 1964 with hopes of becoming a western beacon of open-wheel racing and held its first race on a road-course layout. AJ Foyt won the track’s first oval race in March 1964.

— Richard Petty won the venue’s first NASCAR-sanctioned event, a Winston West Series victory in 1978.

— In 1988, three years after Buddy Jobe purchased the track from Dennis Wood, Phoenix held its first Cup Series event, won on Nov. 6 by Alan Kulwicki, who celebrated with the first “Polish Victory Lap” by driving the opposite direction around the track.

— International Speedway Corporation purchased Phoenix in 1997.

— The track was first reconfigured and repaved in 2011, widening the then-frontstretch by 10 feet while extending the backstretch dogleg by 95 feet and tightening its radius. Progressive banking was also added in Turns 1 and 2.

— The track was again reconfigured and renovated in 2018 as part of a $178 million project that saw the start/finish line move to the exit of what was previously Turn 2. Enhancements were made to provide a new pedestrian tunnel as well as upgrade the media center, Victory Lane and garage area.

— Sunday marks the 53rd race at Phoenix and third championship race, with the first coming in 2020.

Source: Racing Insights

BET IT ON THE HOUSE?

Since the elimination-style format was introduced in 2014, the season finale has been won by the champion, a streak that’s lasted eight years.

Naturally, this year’s Championship 4 are the favorites to win this year’s race at Phoenix as well. Chase Elliott enters as the preliminary favorite at 5-2 odds, according to BetMGM. Elliott, who won a series-high five races in 2022, leads the league in average finish (12.0) and drove to the 2020 championship at Phoenix. Hendrick Motorsports has won each of the two title races held at Phoenix.

Behind Elliott on the odds board is Christopher Bell at 13-4 (+325) odds. Bell is a four-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, but no one has been more clutch in the 2022 season than Bell. The third-year driver for JGR found himself in must-win situations to advance from the Round of 12 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course and again to advance from the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway and delivered both times. Factor in that he has a win on this tire package at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Bell could prove to be a wise pick.

At 4-1 odds sit Joey Logano and Ross Chastain. The duo find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum — Logano was the earliest to lock himself into the Championship 4 thanks to his win at Vegas while Chastain needed a desperate Hail Mary in the final corners at Martinsville to propel past Denny Hamlin and advance to the championship round. Logano’s advantage is that his No. 22 team had ample time to prep for Phoenix. But Chastain has proven he’s never out of it with a series-leading 14 top-five finishes this year.

MORE: Complete list of odds for Sunday

FANTASY LIVE

Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which reset for the playoffs. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 2, and there is a $10,000 prize for the playoff winner.

The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (1,186), Joey Logano (1,087) and Ryan Blaney (1,078).

In addition to Fantasy Live, NASCAR.com is offering the Playoffs Grid Challenge presented by Ruoff Mortgage during the playoffs.

How to play: Fantasy Live | Set up a team today!

ALSO ON NASCAR.COM

Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week, the full field of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.

NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement to the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.

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